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Editorial: Rural roads do deceive

If youíre planning a road trip during the long Labor Day weekend and the route takes you through South Carolina, thereís good news and bad news: You may find lower gas prices in the Palmetto State, but drivers run higher risks of fatal accidents on its country roads.
South Carolina has the most dangerous rural roads in the nation, according to TRIP, a Washington-based group that advocates for improved safety on rural highways. The group found that South Carolina had 4.7 fatalities per 100 million miles driven on its rural roads in 2009, double the national average of 2.31 deaths per 100 million miles traveled on non-interstate rural roads. (North Carolina ranked 11th, with 2.74 deaths per 100 million miles).
Rural roads in general are more dangerous than urban highway systems ó a fact borne out locally by the debate over revamping the crash-prone intersection of Sherrills Ford Road and Barringer Road in western Rowan County, site of a 2009 fatality. Although rural travel makes up only about 25 percent of miles driven in the U.S. annually, it accounts for more than half of all traffic deaths. The reasons arenít difficult to fathom: narrow, two-lane roads designed decades ago, with narrow shoulders, sharp curves and marginal signage. Factor in increased traffic, higher speeds and drivers who may be lulled into inattentiveness because of the passing countryside, and the accident rate is bound to accelerate.
The TRIP report released this week doesnít speculate on why South Carolinaís rural death rate is higher than adjacent states with rural expanses. The conditions that make driving hazardous there exist in many other states as well. However, the group does offer some suggestions for making rural roads safer ó suggestions that could apply to rural roads here. While divided highways and improved intersection designs may be the ultimate answers, those are expensive remedies that typically may be years in the planning and funding stages. TRIP says accidents also can be reduced through less expensive improvements, including rumble strips, shoulder upgrades and better signage. Better highway lighting and increased law-enforcement patrols also can help.
Meanwhile, remember that the best safety device is an attentive driver who obeys traffic regulations, doesnít drive while fatigued or drowsy and avoids getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. Long holiday weekends typically bring an increase in traffic, with a corresponding increase in accidents. Whether youíre traveling on an interstate highway or a meandering country lane, be vigilant ó and have a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.

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